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Hiring Freeze

British developers are struggling to fill skilled positions - but the blame can't be laid entirely on external factors

This week's report from e-skills UK on the concerns of the nation's technology industries has focused attention once more on the recruitment challenges facing British game development studios. Uniquely among tech sector industries, it seems, game companies are finding it incredibly difficult to fill positions on their teams - a situation created by the tough requirements of working in game creation, compounded by brain drain to Canada and other such territories (where the tax breaks are greener, even if the grass isn't necessarily so) and finally rammed home by the failure of UK universities to produce the graduates the business actually needs.

That's the theory, at least. It's certainly the perspective of most people involved in recruiting for their studios, who will generally embark on a passionate rant about one, several or all of those factors at the slightest provocation. It's a bleak picture - the experienced staff leaving the country, the graduates not up to scratch and empty desks abounding at hard-pressed studios with deadlines to hit.

It's not, however, the only perspective on offer, and it's far from being the entirety of the truth. Talk to graduates, to recruiters or to experienced staff presently job-hunting, and a different picture emerges in each case. Graduates express intense frustration at the industry's insistence on having several years' experience for even junior roles. Recruiters bemoan the unrealistic expectations of graduates - and often, more quietly, suggest that their game studio clients' expectations aren't entirely grounded in reality either. Experienced staff, meanwhile, tend to hint that it's not really the lure of Canada that's most appealing, but rather the appeal of a job that will allow for a family life.

A combination of factors including pay and working conditions are conspiring to drive a great many experienced developers out of the business completely

The problem is clearly a lot more complex than it looks on the surface, and while it's easy to point the finger at external culprits - unscrupulous universities running game courses that don't give students anything remotely like the required skills to create games, or a government whose resistance to tax breaks is making it easier for overseas studios to hire experienced staff away from the UK - it's obvious that the industry needs to look to massive internal problems as well.

Two primary problems have been highlighted repeatedly over the past few years, and neither, it seems, are much closer to being solved. The first is the industry's failure to hold on to its staff, with a combination of factors including pay and working conditions conspiring to drive a great many experienced developers out of the business completely and into the more welcoming arms of other creative or technical sectors. The second is a further failure to engage with graduates - one which is compounded by the unrealistic expectations which are so commonly held by the graduates themselves.

The former of those two issues has been explored at great length by a great many commentators, but sadly, we're not a lot closer to a solution than we were a decade ago. It's a polarising debate, in which one camp argues that crunch-style working conditions are a completely normal part of any creative industry, and the other insists that crunch is simply unacceptable in a large, profitable, modern industry which pays so much lip-service to its desire to hold on to talented, experienced staff.

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Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey

Contributing Editor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.

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